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Many politicians find that rudeness is a virtue. It helps to get the message across faster, it may even get a job or two done. To be rude and crude together is also given to some, but that may miss the target. As Narendra Modi should have found, having attracted the censure of quite a few ó not all, though ó of his peers upon making a particularly nasty comment about Shashi Tharoorís wife. Mr Modiís excitement is not unexpected, looking forward as he is to a third stint as Gujaratís chief minister, perhaps even to the chair of the prime minister of India in due time. He has never been discriminating about how he attacks his opponents; for him, a political battle need not leave out the personal. That is typical of the party he belongs to. In an electoral fray, Mr Tharoor, newly sworn in as the minister of state for human resource development, could have legitimately been a target of Mr Modiís smug sarcasm. It is far from clear how his wife can come into the picture. It is not merely the fact of her being targeted at all that is unacceptable but also the disrespectful and insinuating way she has been referred to that is shocking. Mr Modi talks loudly and arrogantly of regional pride. But when in full flow, his taste and tendency lead him to insult a woman who is not in the political fray. That is a truly strange expression of self-respect, pride, honour and the rest of the assertive virtues.

It is possible, even necessary, to criticize a political culture that allows personal attacks against rivals, and all parties can be hauled up for it. But the champions of Hindutva have a special preference for attacking women; Mr Modi merely acted out the culture of his party. His remark is symptomatic of the low value accorded to women in the culture he ascribes to, for it takes not just crudeness, but also a certain habit of thought, to say what he did in public. What is rather unnerving is the possibility that Mr Modi may actually be feeling satisfied, for the extreme ugliness of his comment could have been meant to please a gallery of his constituents. He may find it electorally rewarding to play up to what is lowest in the minds of his followers. But the lowness of the remark puts it beneath the notice of any serious politician. Mr Tharoor need not have stooped to answer it.